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The backstory: Popeyes, the famous fried chicken chain launched back in 1972 in New Orleans, Louisiana, has become a global sensation with about 4,000 restaurants all around the world. It's in the same league as big names like Tim Hortons and Burger King, all under the umbrella of Restaurant Brands International (RBI). But even though Popeyes is huge internationally, it hasn't made quite the splash in China, unlike Tim Hortons.
In 1999, Popeyes first entered the mainland market under a different name, hoping to open 300 outlets by 2002. But, it closed shop and pulled out of the Chinese market in 2003. The food giant made a brief comeback attempt in 2007, but that didn't go far either.
More recently: Jumping ahead to 2020, Popeyes decided to give China another shot, eventually establishing nine locations across the country. The buzz was so real that people queued up for hours during the chain’s grand opening in Shanghai in 2020.
But earlier this year, Popeyes locations in China shut down for a business revamp. In March, Tims China, the parent company of China’s Tim Hortons chains within RBI, announced it had become the exclusive operator and developer for Popeyes in China.
The development: Now, Popeyes is setting its sights on the Chinese market in a big way, ready to take on big rivals like KFC and McDonald’s. The plan is to open 1,700 outlets across the mainland in the next 10 years. After a quick turnaround, Popeyes just reopened a location on Shanghai's bustling Middle Huaihai Road last week.
Tims China said in a statement in March that Popeyes China has US$30 million of cash on hand to put toward expanding in China. It also said it would set aside an additional US$60 million to develop business for the chicken brand in the world’s largest consumer market. Tims already manages about 600 Tim Hortons locations across the mainland, so it’s well-equipped to move the chain forward in a familiar market.
“This is a landmark day,” said Peter Yu, Chairman of Tims China, in a company press release. “With this transaction, Tims China gains a tremendous additional pathway for growth in the world’s most compelling consumer market. The track record of our team, who led the development of Tim Hortons in China from a standing start to over 600 stores in under five years, highlights the strength of our well-honed store development platform and infrastructure. We are excited to leverage what we’ve built to launch and grow the Popeyes business rapidly and efficiently.”
“China remains a very important market for the brand to expand its presence,” said Jason Ge, general manager of Popeyes China, to reporters in a media briefing on Wednesday. “We hope to connect people with the same interest in our outlets. We hope our customers will be impressed by our food, decor and music.”
“The reopening of China’s economy [after the pandemic] heightened global fast-food giants’ hopes that they can regain growth momentum in the world’s largest consumer market,” said Chen Xiao, CEO of Shanghai Yacheng Culture, a marketing and branding company. “Restaurant businesses appeared to recover quickly in cities like Shanghai, although it will still take time to revive the country’s stalled economy.”